This bitter leaved salad plant is really easy to grow in the soil, raised beds or pots. Sow seed in early summer and you’ll have lots of tasty pickings from autumn to early winter. Here’s how.
There are three types of chicory: red chicory, which is sometimes known as raddichio and is often seen in mixed salad packs in supermarkets; sugarloaf varieties, which resemble lettuces and forcing chicory – this isn’t grown in the normal way. It’s deprived of light, or forced, in winter to make edible white growths called chicons.
Chicory will thrive in a sunny spot with well-drained soil. It can be grown in short rows on the vegetable patch or allotment, and is also ideal for raised beds and large pots.
What to do
- Chicory likes a sunny spot with well-drained soil.
- If you can, prepare soil for spring sowing by digging in the winter, adding plenty of well-rotted manure.
- Remove weeds, any very large stones and rake to leave a level finish.
- A week before sowing sprinkle a general purpose fertiliser (of approximately 30g per square metre) over the area and rake into the surface.
How to sow seeds
- Sow seeds in July or August, for plants ready to be picked from October to December.
- To sow in rows, stretch a length of string between two canes to make a straight line and make a shallow trench, about 1cm deep, with a garden cane.
- Sow seeds thinly, then cover, water and label.
- Alternatively, fill a large 45cm (18in) diameter pot with compost, level and tap to settle – aim to leave a 2cm (1in) gap between the surface of the compost and the rim of the pot. Sow seeds thinly across the surface and cover with a 1cm (0.5in) layer of vermiculite.
- Water and stand in a cold frame, or in a slightly shaded space in the garden.
- Seeds will take about two weeks to germinate. When seedlings are about 2cm (1in) tall, thin them out, leaving a plant every 15cm (6in).
- If plants are allowed to dry out they may run to seed, so water well and keep the soil free from weeds.
- Use a sharp knife to cut off the heads of sugarloaf varieties in late autumn, while varieties grown for their red leaves (which are green for much of the summer) should be harvested after a period of cold weather – only then do they turn completely dark.
- There are several varieties of chicory that are ideal for forcing in winter for tender, blanched heads. To do this, buy dormant plants in pots in the autumn – in November, cut back growth leaving short stubs above ground.
- Put a bucket over the top of the pot to block out light and put in a frost free place, such as a garage or shed. In several weeks, tender white chicons will have formed. These can be cut off at the base and the process repeated until spring.
- After this, remove the bucket and allow plants to grow as normal. If you’re forcing chicory in the ground, dig up a few roots, pot up into three litre pots and treat as pot-grown plants.
Five to try
- ‘Rossa di Treviso’ – Maroon leaves and heavy white veins
- ‘Rossa di Verona’ – Maroon leaves and spreading growth
- ‘Biondissima di Triesta’ – green, rounded heads
- ‘Bianca di Milano’ – tightly packed, upright green heads
- ‘Witloof de Brussels’ – forcing chicory.